Monday, August 21, 2006

Libraries and the Bottle City of Kandor

Your Own Bottle City of Kandor

I went to work one morning last week and opened up my email to find that Mat and Emily had done the fabulous; they had stepped off the grid, and tossed their conventional career tracks involving jobs and computer-generated paychecks. They had finalized their move to Baltimore and the opening of their own recording studio.

Maybe it was that I grew up with a recording studio in my back yard, or maybe it was because the thought of leaving my conventional career behind was suddenly and unexpectedly appealing, but the effect of reading this was something for which I was completely unprepared. Sitting there at my desk at work, I felt tears in my eyes. I've been under a lot of stress at work lately, and becoming a mom has pushed my personal growth forward a lot this summer. I've had to sit around contemplating exactly what it is I'm doing with my life, and acknowledge that I've left some things I wanted to do (like creative writing) behind in my quest for other things (like a stable home life).

I have known for a while now that I'd sacrificed my creative career on the altar of library science and archival preservation. Of course, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But realizing what I've done isn't the same as realizing *why* I've done it, and that all came in a rush reading about Mat and Emily. I've been denying my creative self because I've been afraid I'd turn into my father. He had a creative career, and some people have blamed our unstable home life on his lack of a conventional job. But our instability as a household wasn't caused by my father's creative career, it was caused by his addictions. There are just as many scary alcoholic dads with office jobs as there are scary alcoholic dads in other kinds of fields. When Mat and Emily have their kids, they're going to be awesome parents. This will still be true even now that they've dedicated their lives to making art.

So, realizing my hang-up, I no know why I haven't published in nearly four years. Because I was focused on creating a stable and happy home for myself, on some level I thought that producing really good art was out of the question. Obviously, this idea is absurd. I think that a lot of my internal funk lately has been because I'm creatively backed-up; all that art and writing has to come out somehow. Sometimes, I walk around so full of words and images that I wonder why my hands aren't dripping carbon black ink.

I called the husband and told him of my revelation. At first I despaired, because I thought this all meant I should quit my job. I thought the husband was going to cry - he told me that he has always been envious of my career, and how much I really enjoy my work. I love what I do; archives are truly my vocation. I belong in a library; I love the architecture of information, and I've spent a lot of time becoming very good at my job. There's no sense in throwing away a highly refined skill set like the one I've managed to build up in the past eleven and a half years. But, I said, look at the last four years: a job where the supervisor was so completely unlikeable no one could work with them; a job that worked me so hard I used to come home and cry because I hadn't the energy to do anything for myself; a job where the supervisor doesn't think women with small children should work at all. The husband paused at this list, but said if I quit being a librarian and archivist just because my last few jobs had bad management, he'd be crushed. He would love to have a vocation he liked as much as mine, he said, and I shouldn't give up, because all management is transitory anyway. Personality conflicts may come and go, but Mylar is forever. He kissed my forehead that night and told me not to give up on my career or my creative pursuits.

I have been blaming my creative draught these past four years on my last incomplete project, a tarot deck I started when I moved to Little 5. I discussed all this with Dust, the person who put just as much work into that failed project as I. He told me that the tarot deck was like my own personal unenlarged Bottle City of Kandor, that project sitting on Superman's shelf that never gets quite put right. Even Superman fucks projects up sometimes; you can't make everything come out right, and sometimes it's OK to let things sit up on a shelf for a while. They'll be OK.

Since then, I've been seeing metaphorical Bottle Cities of Kandor everywhere. The library at Comfortable U. is like the Bottle City of Kandor: off scale for its true purpose and isolated by a higher technology it can't possibly fight or understand without help. Watching the relationships of your exes is like watching the Bottle City of Kandor: they're so small the people look really far away, and you can't understand what they're doing in there. Breastfeeding while working is like being a citizen of the Bottle City of Kandor: you're participating in a custom that people know is important to keep, but no one really wants to think about it too much.

Right now, my whole life is like the Bottle City of Kandor: self-sustaining only so long as it is self-contained, a micro economy supported by its own limitations. Sometimes when we put things on a shelf, we do so for good reasons. Everyone's got their own Bottle Cities of Kandor, sitting in a dated four-color universe, waiting for Superman to get off his superbottom and fix things. Still, those of us inside the glass go about our daily business finding happiness in our unique existance. As long as we aren't kidnapped by Lex Luthor, we'll all be OK.

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